Promoting School Bus Safety

In this 2019 file photo, law enforcement officers partner to help promote school bus safety. From left: Dfc. George Parker, Lt. Robert Connolly, Sheriff Gary Hofmann, bus contractors Raymond Aaron, Lawrence Chanaud, Laura Bostic and Evelyn Gardner, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Andrea Kane, QACPS Chief Operating Officer Sidney Pinder, and Supervisor of Transportation Margaret Ellen Kalmanowicz.

CENTREVILLE — “I do not want to remove this resource from our schools,” Queen Anne’s County sheriff Gary Hofmann said in an interview about pending legislation at the state level to redirect funds for school resource officers. This position being taken by certain legislators is not something that all legislators are pushing for, said Hoffman.

Senate Bill 0245, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Ellis (D-Charles), establishes numerous restrictions on school resource officers in what he told the Capital News Service is a plan to ensure students, especially those of color, feel more comfortable at school.

The Maryland Safe to Learn Act of 2018 required schools to prove they either have a designated school resource officer or “adequate local law enforcement coverage.”

This year’s bill establishes guidelines prohibiting school resource officers from entering schools “except under certain circumstances.”

“We are grateful to have the support of our SROs in QACPS. They are visible and have built relationships with students, staff, and families. They support our schools and are members of our community,” Dr. Andrea Kane, Superintendent of Queen Anne’s County Public Schools said.

Ellis said the allowed circumstances of entering the school would primarily entail emergencies or routine uses such as the restroom, under the proposed law.

The bill also requires that school officers wear street clothes rather than a police uniform, while concealing their firearm unless needed.

“The goal should be safety and security for all those in our schools,” Hoffman said. He believes in creating a safe environment for all including, staff, students and parents who enter the buildings, “This protection is not just for the bricks and blocks of the building...we are partners and friends.”

Hofmann mentioned the reinstitution of the DARE program started again last year within the QACPS system. Resource officers are a very important part of our school system, he said. At the end of the day, Hoffman said, it should be left up to each jurisdiction to decide how to implement and work with school resource officers. In Queen Anne’s county the positions are not funded through the Board of Education, but directly through Hoffman’s department, he noted.

“I can’t imagine what it is like to be a student and constantly having to worry about who might walk through those school doors,” he said he is concerned that by not having a resource officer in the school it could create an opportunity for harm to be done and cause damage to the relationships formed between the student body and his deputies. Those relationships have served to prevent some incidents and keep others from recurring.

County commissioner Chris Corchiarino agreed. “I oppose this legislation,” he said, “SROs contribute to the safety of students and they see the police are there to help and protect them.” Corchiarino noted in Queen Anne’s County there have developed many good relationships between law enforcement and the community. Each county should be able to regulate their own, he said.

State’s Attorney Lance Richardson also weighed in, “I think it’s a terrible idea to do away with School Resource Officers. School shootings are unfortunately going to keep occurring. SROs are a great deterrent to violence, drug dealing and a host of other crimes that unfortunately poison our schools and students.” Richardson added he believes Queen Anne’s County should decide whether they want SROs and the state should allow them to make this decision based on resident’s preferences.

The Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs committee held a hearing on the bill Wednesday, where a number of organizations testified for and against the bill.

Information in this article was in part sourced from reporting by Patrick Hauf, Capital News Service.

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